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The United States expects the leaders of all ASEAN nations to attend a summit in Singapore next week, a US diplomat said Saturday, setting the stage for a possible meeting between Barack Obama and leaders of Myanmar’s ruling junta.
Speaking at a meeting in the Philippines where officials are laying the groundwork for the inaugural US-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting, Washington’s ambassador to the organisation, Scott Marciel, said: “We expect all ASEAN leaders to attend the summit in Singapore.”
Marciel did not elaborate, but his comments indicate that Washington expects Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein will be in Singapore on November 15, opening the door for a potential meeting with the US leader.
Washington has recently softened its stance towards military-ruled Myanmar after years of refusing to engage with the junta.
Marciel and his boss, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, this week visited the reclusive state, the most senior US officials to do so since 1995.
As well as meeting leading members of the regime, they also met detained democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Singapore summit could offer an opportunity for higher-level contact, when representatives from APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) begin meeting Tuesday, with ASEAN leaders gathering in the city-state shortly afterwards.
Earlier, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Thein Sein was expected to attend the ASEAN summit.
Lee also said detained Suu Kyi would be discussed when Obama meets with ASEAN leaders.
In previous years, Western leaders have avoided meeting officials from Myanmar, preferring a policy of isolating the regime because of its poor human rights record and disregard for democracy.
In contrast, ASEAN, which groups Myanmar, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, has sought to engage with the junta.